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Mass Effect 1: Soul of redemption

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Chapter 1: Beginnings

 

         “Shepard, finally joining the crew on this one? It’s time you took your place; we been feeding your sorry ass for long enough”, stated Marcus.

         “I’m not sure about this. I’ve never done this before. What happens if they catch us? I don’t want to go to jail, I’m just 17”, replied John. He’d already been peddling and selling drugs for the gang for years now, but he wasn’t sure about his new task.

         “Who been taken care of you, watchin’ out for you these past 4 years? Ain’t the fuckin’ Systems Alliance or those tentacled alien freaks. Now earn your place!” shouted Marcus. John then found himself halfway up the wall with a very strong and heavily scarred hand around his throat. “You gonna pussy out? We’ll slit your punk ass throat right now!”

         “Alright…”, John struggled to speak, but he felt like he was going to pass out. He suddenly found himself dropped on the floor like a sack of potatoes.  “Boss says we got a job to do, we do it!” screamed Marcus, as he kicked John in the gut. “Now GET UP!”.

         John stood up quickly, eager to avoid further pummeling. He felt like he was walking into a giant mistake; he didn’t feel like following the gang, but did he have a choice? Marcus was certainly not going to let him walk out of this. He wanted to regret his decision all those years ago when he escaped the orphanage but was it really any better? They had no temperature control; they starved routinely, and the food they did get was rotten garbage from local food distributors. He didn’t like what they were about to do, but Marcus certainly was right on one thing: crime money definitely provided more ‘luxuries’ like food than a poorly funded orphanage.

         Shepard was snapped back to the present when he heard Marcus’ voice boom to the members, “This is simple guys. Boss says ‘em fucking rivals moved into our turf. Takin’ our fuckin’ money! We ain’t gonna allow that.” “Damn right, shoot up them bitches”, hollered a heavily tattooed man of about 23 years in the corner of the room. Marcus fixed him with an icy glare and taunted “Fuck you say? I tell you to speak? You ain’t know shit. Shut your ass up, unless you got the plan!” The tattooed man instantly looked at the floor, unable to make eye contact with Marcus’ intense gaze.

         “We gonna do this smart! When we get to the dealer's corner, we’ll give him some of this shit!”, said Marcus as he held up a syringe of clear liquid. “We not gonna kill him in the street, too risky. Boss wants it done clean. After we drug him, we gonna bring his ass to the safe house, and do our work there”, ordered Marcus.


 

       John and five other men walked around the surrounding blocks, making sure no police were near. The area wasn’t important enough for the city to routinely police; the upper-level districts of the city, where the well off lived as well as controlled government, preferred their areas protected. It would cost them too much money, and they were perfectly content to leave the lower levels unprotected as long as they were safe; compound that by the fact that cameras were a luxury this deep underground into the city, and it was fairly easy to pull off crime.

         After ensuring they wouldn’t be bothered, Marcus ordered his men to close around the target. The man was young, a couple of years older than him, and wore an old-fashioned drawstring backpack. By the looks of it, he was new at his job, as he looked mostly at the floor instead of watching around him. Rookie mistake, John thought to himself as he acted nonchalantly under the heavy shadow of a dirty yellow business awning. When he was younger, John sold drugs on the streets all the time; he learned quickly that not paying attention made you the easiest victim. He learned that the hard way when he was robbed at gunpoint a couple years back; gang found the guys who took their shit, but they definitely still beat the crap out of John. Being negligent was a luxury people couldn’t afford down here. While wincing at the memory, he thought over the irony that the poor kid they were about to take could have been him.

              Marcus had parked one of the gang’s air-vans down the block, waiting for his crew to complete the job. As Marcus had told them at the latter end of the meeting, this wasn’t an assassination; they needed to send a message far more pungent than a shot in the head. Unfortunately, that was as much description as Marcus was willing to tell them.

            “Aight listen, you guys are good to go. Grab him now. Make this quick. Once he is down on the ground, I’ll drive by and you guys will take him in the cargo area with you.” Marcus told them into their earpieces. While implants linked via omni-tool would have been more convenient, proper medical care for cheap was nonexistent at this level; it was much cheaper to use old school equipment.

Five men, including John, began to approach their victim from different directions walking casually. The dealer, oblivious to the multiple threats, continued to stare blankly into the ground, waiting for his next customer. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain in his neck as one of the crew stabbed the needle with the anesthetic deep into his neck and pushed down on the plunger. His scream was cut short as more men surrounded him and clapped a hand down on his mouth. His struggling quickly faded as he was overwhelmed by the chemical cocktail.

              As promised, Marcus cruised by in the air-van. John and two other men carried their victim towards the back of the truck as the other three stood ready with pistols hidden away to stop anyone who might give them trouble. With the man shoved into the corner, each of the men tried to secure themselves as best they could before their transport took off. John began to have second thoughts about his actions but felt that he was already too far gone to stop anything that was happening. Sighing in frustration, he held onto the railing inside the cargo area as the van abruptly made turns, Marcus’ driving as worse as ever.


 

 

         They arrived in front of a garaged warehouse, deep underground the city. After the van drove in, the garage door was brought back down to hide them. John had only been here a few times, but it served as the gang’s distribution hub; in addition to housing drugs, they kept a ready supply of weapons and armaments to equip their enforcers.

         John and the other members dragged the man’s limp body out of the truck and let him drop off the edge down to the floor with a sickening thud. “Follow me,” ordered Marcus as he walked swiftly passed them. John and the other men picked the body up, some grabbing a limb, others providing support under the torso, as they carried him through the warehouse. Marcus opened a door at the far corner and ushered them down the cold metal steps to the basement, an assortment of clangs being heard as the men walked down the stairs.

         They approached a room with two men armed with shotguns standing guard. They swiftly stepped aside as they saw Marcus approach, allowing him and the others passage into the room. John could tell the walls of the room were made of cinder blocks and cement through the plastic… wait, plastic! Marcus quickly realized that the walls and floor of the room were covered with thick, translucent plastic sheets. He was stunned by its presence, but it quickly dawned on him why it was here: it made the mess about to be made a lot easier to clean. The room was sparsely furnished, with a singular metal chair placed against the wall. John was now thoroughly terrified, but even more scared of backing out in front of Marcus.

         They deposited the man in the center of the room as Marcus closed the door behind them. “Alright boys, now the real fun begins!”, Marcus bellowed with a sadistic grin plastered on his face. John and the other men looked at each other, trying to determine if any man among them knew what was going to happen next. They all knew this man was going to die tonight, but the odd steps they had to go through to apprehend him and the fact that they had to bring him into a guarded room with plastic over the walls only expanded the grim possibilities that they hypothesized would happen.

         “Get that rope over there. Tie ‘em up to the chair.”, Marcus commanded as he pointed to a pile of ropes in the corner while picking up the metal chair and slamming it down in the middle of the room. As John and the men complied with his orders, encircling the man’s arms and legs with rope and tying him to the chair, Marcus abruptly left the room. A minute later, he returned with several black ski masks, another syringe full of liquid, pliers, and a hammer. “Put these on”, Marcus told the assembled men as he threw each a mask which they quickly dawned on. As the men finished putting masks over their heads, Marcus strode over to their captive and jabbed the needle into the man’s neck again; after around 30 seconds had elapsed, the man’s eyes started to flutter open. He was initially dazed but fear quickly crept into his eyes as he scanned the room.

         “What the fuck! Who the fuck are you people! I swear I’ll fuck you…” the man started to say, but realized his threat was hollow when he tried to stand up but found himself tied by ropes. Marcus punched the man in the face before telling him “You have two options; one, tell us everything you know about the gang you work for and we’ll let you go; two, we’ll beat the crap out of you, get the information, and then beat you to death."

         “I ain’t telling you nothing bitch! Let me out of here or when my people find me I swear to god I will kill…”; his response was cut short as Marcus smashed his fist into the man’s face with enough force to knock some of his teeth free. The man futilely spits out blood and the remains of his shattered teeth only to have it end up on his shirt and pants.

         “John, grab those pliers over there,” ordered Marcus as the man continued to struggle in the chair. When John heard this, he was too afraid to even move. He didn't want to be in the room, let alone take part in this man's torture. Wasn't kidnapping him enough? Seeing John's hesitation, Marcus screamed at him, "NOW! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!" Remembering the beating he endured earlier, he quickly reached for the pliers and walked towards Marcus, holding them out for him to take. "What are you giving them to me for? You're gonna be doing it. Start with the fingernails.”

         John looked at Marcus with shock on his face. “I can’t… I don’t want to.” John tried to say but was instantly cut off by Marcus. “If you don’t start tearing out his nails in the next 5 seconds, I swear’ll have those guys over there do to you what you were supposed to do to this guy," Marcus shouted as he pointed at the other men in the room, who looked nervously between themselves. John wanted to think that he didn't know how he got himself in this mess, but he knew EXACTLY how he got himself here; or did he? He didn't ask to be orphaned after slavers attacked Mindoir and killed both his parents; he didn’t ask to be sent to an orphanage on Earth. His whole life he had felt trapped, forgotten, and left with no good options. He wanted to be smart and successful, like all those people he saw on those Holo-vid TV shows, but he knew it was futile. He was in a gang basement, holding a pair of pliers, and about to torture a man who had never done anything to him, against his will.

         Sighing quietly, John stepped forward and faced the man. He was clearly dazed; being drugged twice and then punched by Marcus tended to do that. With shaking hands, he opened the pliers with his right hand and then grabbed the man’s rebellious index with his left. Marcus put a hand around the man’s throat and began to squeeze with moderate force; not enough to suffocate, but just enough to make it very hard to breathe. “Last chance, jackass, tell us what you know and where you get this shit, or tonight is going to be a long night.”

               John was hopeful; maybe the man would tell Marcus what he wanted to know and he wouldn’t have to be forced to pull his fingernails. Unfortunately, his hopes were gradually dashed as the man looked back at Marcus with a hateful gaze and stayed quiet. “John. Now.” Marcus commanded. Reluctantly, John began to pull with the pliers at the man’s fingernail, gently at first. Marcus noted that the man still had 10 of his fingernails, and slowly turned his head to face John. ‘Fuck it, my life or his’, John thought to himself as he started to pull with more force. The man started to scream, much to John's terror, but he dared not stop. Noticing that the nail was still refusing to budge, he started to wiggle the plier side to side, increasing the man's already loud screams of pain. After a few more agonizing seconds, John pulled the nail free; his hands shook in freight, and his gripe around the pliers was so tight that he couldn't drop the nail.


 

 

         John was reaching his breaking point. Over the last hour, Marcus had ordered him to commit atrocities he would never have thought of committing against the poor man in front of him. He almost believed that he was the one being tortured, but a glance at his victim readjusted his perspective. John had pulled 8 fingernails and broke one of the man’s shins with a hammer while Marcus had senselessly beat and screamed at the man. He was missing most of his front teeth, his shirt was covered in blood, and the lower half of his right leg looked a little less straight than it should have been.

         “Wait… please, I’ll tell you what I know” begged the man as he raggedly breathed. John felt immediately relieved when he heard that; he wasn’t sure how much longer he could be made to torture the man. “You’ll let me live, right?” asked the man. “If you tell us everything. Start talking; locations, members, drops.”

         "Alright… they, they have this place at 3756 Blake Street, 4th level. We weren't supposed to know but I and a friend followed our supplier back one day. From what I have heard, that's where their boss sits during the day too. They smuggle some light arms there too. That's all I know, I swear. They said if I ever said anything, they would kill my family. Please, let me go; I need to get out of this city." begged the man.

         Marcus looked at the man for a couple of seconds and then replied: "Thank you for your help. You have made my day a lot easier. '' He then reached to his waistline and pulled out a gun from under his shirt. "Wait, you said you'd let me go. Please, you promised…I never even killed anyone" cried the man. Marcus started to laugh, before replying "I guess you're right. I did say I wouldn’t kill you.” He then looked at John and told him with a sadistic grin, “John. You’re going to kill him!” Marcus then held out the gun for John to take.

         No, no, no. Why can’t we just let him go? I am not doing that. Don’t touch the gun, John told himself. Marcus, sensing his hesitation, then reached towards his waistline again to produce another gun, pointed directly at John’s head.

“You kill him, or I will kill you both.” John was thoroughly terrified; he had never killed anyone before. Having to take a life had never occurred to him when he joined them all those years ago. He was just in it for the money. As John reached for the gun with shaking hands, he again mentally kicked himself for the actions he took that led him here.

              John took the gun and held the cold metal with a death grip, turning the safety off as he did so. He had never held a gun before but what truly terrified him was that he was being forced to kill someone. He brought the barrel and pushed it into the man’s forehead; he tried to look into the man’s eyes one last time, to at least acknowledge the soul he was about to take, but the look of terror and anguish instantly made him look away. “Please man…please don’t do this…I told you what you wanted” the man desperately told him. John again hesitated, fear paralyzing his body and mind. Click, John heard next time him, realizing that Marcus had turned the safety off on the pistol he pointed at John. John realized his time had run out. He tried to look at the man one last time, but finding himself unable to, looked away as he pulled the trigger.

                  The gun rocked in his hands and he almost dropped it. He has instantly covered in blood, and easily identifiable pieces of brain were splattered on the floor. ‘Marcus did this. It is not your fault’ he tried to tell himself. But then he remembered who had to pull the trigger. Marcus looked at the other men assembled in the room, who mostly watched the show with little interest and told them “Clean this shit up. Burn his body in the incinerator. And change your clothes the Last thing we want is for someone to get caught with evidence.”

           Marcus then looked at John with a grin plastered all over his face, easily contrasting the stunned shock on John's. "You're a man now. This is life on the streets. There is no room for good, you know that." John was too shocked to say anything. On some level, he knew what Marcus said was true, but he still had options, didn't he? John wanted to think of himself as a good person, that his soul was still pure. But he quickly realized that what was left of his innocence had been splattered on the floor and all over his shirt.

          “Keep it. It’s yours now. Think of it as a little present cause your gonna need it soon.” Marcus told John as he patted him on the shoulder. “M-6 Carnifax. Good gun. Got it when he mugged some drunk alliance soldiers on leave.”


 

         John sat in the aircar next to Marcus. John wanted to go with the other members, but Marcus had insisted (very harshly, of course). As soon as Marcus reported the information that he gathered to the boss, he was informed that he was to take a team, capture the building and kill everyone inside, especially the leader.

         Marcus brought with him the same men from yesterday’s events, John, and a few other older men that John had never seen; he assumed these men were enforcers or hired muscle for the gang, but he was never told the specifics. John did NOT want to be here. He was barely keeping it together after yesterday; he felt broken inside. Any semblance of his humanity he felt slowly bleed out of him as the hours dragged by, replaying the events in his head. The desperate pleas of the man, the feel of the gun in his hand, the splatter of blood afterword; he was sure these memories would haunt him forever. Unfortunately, however hard John now tried to get away he couldn’t. He was trapped, sitting in an aircar next to a maniac, with no hope in sight.

         Marcus' omni-tool, one of the few John had ever seen, sounded with the reports of the other men. "Ready and in position," said one; "waiting on you" stated another. Upon hearing this, Marcus got out of the aircar and started to walk towards the back door of the building. Reluctantly, John got up and out of the aircar as well, sprinting a few short steps until he was slightly behind Marcus' left.

         After scoping out the place earlier, it appeared that the building was a large warehouse, much like theirs. It’s glass windows were covered in grime and dust while its brick walls appeared a faded red. “Shepard. Get ready. Once we go in, it's going to be a mess. Kill anyone in there, do you understand? No hesitation or they will kill you." John gulped and nodded his head; ‘at least they will be trying to kill me this time', he thought to himself, quickly recalling his murder of the helpless man.

         Marcus stopped walking in front of a rusted metal door and looked back at John. “The others will be blowing open the front entrance. We are going to flank them from behind while they are distracted and kill them. And take out your gun. You gonna walk into hell with your hands?” John quickly got Marcus’ pistol, his pistol, and held it in his grip. The weapon felt lighter and heavier at the same time; John was now more familiar with its weight, but the gun weighed him down with the memories of last night.

         Marcus turned to John and told him “Get Ready”, before opening his commlink to the others saying “Boys, now’s our chance. Show these assholes what a TRUE gang looks like”. Marcus shot the lock off the door in front of them and walked inside with John close behind. The back of the warehouse appeared to be rows of crates stacked on top of one another; some were drugs, but others were most likely smuggled goods, mods, and weapons. John could already start to hear gunfire and screaming from the men inside the warehouse as John made his way to a set of stairs. The stairs led up to a wide walkway on the side of the warehouse with cargo crates scattered about, providing perfect cover he hoped.

         John ran up the stairs quickly while staying low, so he could barely be seen above the railing. Finding a large crate, he quickly ran behind it. There, I am far enough away from Marcus that he won’t know I didn’t fight. And no one will find me up here either. John sat there for what seemed like an eternity, listening to the sounds of gunfire as the rival gangs shot at each other and dodged back into cover. Eventually, he began to hear the sounds of gunfire wither and eventually disappear altogether. Hoping that the fight was almost over, he ran back down the staircase and slowly approached the middle of the warehouse. John could see that people had died, there bodies left as mangled heaps on the floor and torn apart by mass accelerator rounds. Blood pooled and flowed everywhere he looked. He increasingly became concerned as he found none of the men that came with him alive; everyone appeared to be dead but that couldn’t be right. Somebody had to fire the last shot, right?

         “Shepard, you fucking dumbass… once I get up I am going to kill…” Marcus had tried to say but was cut off by a bout of intense coughing of blood. John froze, unsure of what he should do. Kill him? Run? Help him? His pondering was quickly cut short as Marcus raised his gun and shot John in his arm. John dropped his gun as the shot tore through the ligaments and tendons of his lower arm. He clutched his arm, fingers tightening over the wound to try and stop the bleeding, as he slowly walked backward. Abruptly, Marcus got up and rushed John, landing an elbow to his stomach and shoving him to the floor. John tried to get up, but his body felt weighed down by lead.

         “We had a plan, but you fucked it up. Now everybody is dead cause of you.” Marcus accused him. “Now you’re gonna pay the price. You're going to die like the rest of them", Marcus told John as he raised his pistol and pointed it at John's head. He looked at the barrel of the gun; I guess this is how that man felt yesterday. Only fitting. Knowing there was nothing he could do, John sat there, each second an eternity as he waited for his life to end.

Suddenly, John found himself encased in blue energy. The shot fired from Marcus’ gun hit him in the head, or at least it should have.  “What the fuck?” Marcus said in shock. Seeing that John was still alive, Marcus proceeded to fire the pistol until it blared an overheat warning. With each shot, the blue aura around John dimmed and flickered, but held fast. "When did you become a biotic freak?" Marcus asked in bewilderment, walking backward slowly. I’ve had enough of this, John thought as he got up. He called back the fear he felt in himself, but a more prominent emotion came with it: hatred. He was tired of having to perform Marcus’ grime biddings, getting beat up, and threatened. The strange blue aura again enveloped John; he felt whisps and crackles of energy form around him. Unfamiliar with his newfound power, he felt himself directing the energy toward Marcus with an outstretched hand. 

Seeing blue light expand around John, Marcus turned around and began to run. Before he could get very far, the sphere of energy around John exploded and sent a wall of force toward Marcus. The impact was strong enough to send him slamming into one of the warehouses massive shelves; as Marcus tumbled to the floor, the shelves tumbled down as well, their contents burying him. As the noise cleared, John could hear the faint sound of sirens in the distance. Picking up his pistol and sliding it into the waist of his pants, he started sprinting as fast as he can.

After leaving the warehouse and dodging police around every corner, he stopped to assess his wound. Seeing an entrance and exit wound, he assumed that the bullet had passed clean through his arm. The wound had also stopped bleeding off the most part. Good, he thought to himself. While he didn't wish he was shot, the fact that the wound had stopped bleeding and he didn't have the bullet in his arm meant that medical care wasn't an immediate necessity. Unfortunately, a bullet wound would still arise suspicion. Seeing a homeless man with a jacket down the empty street, he approached him and draws his gun. 

“Give me your fucking jacket. Now”, John demanded. The homeless man looked at John, got up, and started taking off his jacket. As the man started handing over the jacket, he threw it at John and lunged for his gun. Given a split second to contemplate what to do, John did the first thing that came to his mind and pulled the trigger. John sidestepped the man as he fell to the ground, dark red blood pooling out from under him on the grimy street. John immediately froze, unsure of what to do next. His mind raced but quickly decided that he needed to get out of here fast. He picked up the jacket from the ground, thankful that the pool of blood hadn't reached it yet, holstered his pistol which felt heavier than ever, and started to walk swiftly as he decided he had a train to catch to Vancouver. Far enough away from New York that it would be hard to implicate him, but also large enough to hide within the throngs of people there.


 

 When he reached the subway, he looked around to make sure no cops were there and proceeded to hop over the turnstile. If the cops were around, he would have paid, but the last thing he wanted to do was leave any trace of himself. 

Over the loudspeakers, John heard “Tonight’s last train to Vancouver will be departing in one minute. Please proceed to track 17.” Upon hearing the announcement, John began to jog down the station until he found a staircase with a bright orange sign that said “Track 17” in bold black letters. Running down the concrete steps two at a time, he barely made it into the train as the doors closed behind him. 

Looking around the train car, he found it almost completely empty. Good, he thought, the fewer people that see me right now, the better. He took a seat and allowed himself to feel some slight relief. As the adrenaline of the last hour faded, he began to feel the aching pain in his arm from the gunshot wound. Only making matters worse, he began to feel a powerful throbbing in his head, a precursor to the worst migraine he had ever had. 

As the train began to move, he contemplated today’s events. He felt broken and inhuman. Almost 18 now, and he had already killed three people. While Marcus might have had it coming, he had killed two others in cold blood. At that moment, he contemplated taking out the pistol, Marcus’ pistol, and ending it right then and there. What do I really have to lose anyway? he thought to himself. His entire life, he had been a criminal, and now he was a murderer; he had no family, no friends, and had done nothing important. Fuck it, he thought and reached for the pistol. As soon as he touched its cold metal handle, he stopped. If I kill myself, that homeless man would have died for nothing. I won't let Marcus’ pistol take one more person today, he thought to himself. If he ended it here and now, then all the things he had to do, including killing his… victims would have been for nothing. No, he would carry his burden, those invisible scars, for the rest of his life, hoping he could one day atone for them. 

Trying to think of something else to ward off his suicidal thoughts, he wondered just what the hell the blue energy was. Is this some kind of magic? he thought to himself but quickly shot down the idea. Playing back the events in his head, he recalled Marcus calling him a “biotic”. He roughly remembered that they can manipulate their environment using Mass effect fields, but he never remembered being exposed to any element zero. As a matter of fact, he didn't remember anything about his old life; his parents had died when he was two after Batarians attacked Mindoir. 

John tried to stretch out and relax on the seats, but found it difficult to get comfortable in hard, unyielding plastic. When he closed his eyes to get some sleep, all he could focus on was the pain in his head. Deciding it was going to be a rough 3 hours, he tried to settle in as best he could, listening to the holo-advertisements that displayed on the walls of the train.

“Luxury, exillerence, style. Buy the new Raytheon MSx6 sky car today and get a free upgrade to our premium sound systems. No money down, and only 0.6% APR. Visit your local dealership. Terms and conditions apply”, the advertisement said in a sultry voice. Yep, this is going to be a long three hours. Why the f*** are they even running ads here, who can buy that, he thought to himself. And, so he braced himself for the next ad to play. “Are you looking for purpose, teamwork, and discovery? If so, join the Systems Alliance today. Step up to the plate and defend Earth and her colonies, while having access to career advancement opportunities and services post-enlistment. Special bonuses are available for biotically talented individuals. Come into our enlistment center today and see if you make the cut, soldier,” spoke the rough and old sounding voice coming from the advertisement.


 

 "Yes, of course, sir. Take a set over here and we will get you started on the application process,” instructed the enlistment officer. As she turned to reach for a data pad that contained the application, John sat down in the chair, enjoying its softness and the texture of the worn, dark brown leather. John glanced around the room; it was a rather small office area, with a few metal desks arranged into 2 neat rows, each with an alliance enlistment officer behind it.

“Here you are, sir. The application process consists of two phases. You will complete this first, so we can register your information, and then a physical assessment to determine if your ‘soldier material’, so to speak. Please, let me know if you have any questions and I will be happy to answer them.” 

John thanked her as he took the datapad. He began reading the text on the first page, telling it's readers how ‘you are taking the first step towards a better future for yourself and humanity’. 

As John started filling the application, he faced trouble as soon as he passed the line that asked for his name. His citizenship ID number? He didn't have that! “Um… Excuse me miss, but I don't have my citizenship number", John told the officer. "That's alright," she responded in an upbeat tone, "if you want, you can take a minute and call your parents if they are at home. Maybe they can get it for you."

Call my parents? I’ve been put on hold ever since I was two, John thought to himself gloomily. “I am sorry to bother, but I don't think I can get my ID number that way. My parents… my parents passed away when I was young” John started, feeling a little depressed. Odd, he thought to himself, I can't even remember them. Why am I sad about something I can't remember? He quickly dispelled the thought from his head, ashamed. 

“I apologize, sir, I didn't mean to be insensitive or upset you. If you don't have your ID with you, there is a DNA scanner in the post office across the street. They can scan you there, verify you're you and give you a temporary or new one."

And so, John returned 15 minutes later, with his newly minted ID number card. First one he ever owned actually, as the orphanage never gave him one and he never found himself needing one where he lived either. Inputting the number, he moved on through the application, eager to complete it. Mailing address? Easy, none. Doctor, none. Health insurance, none. Academics… Oh shit. 

John read over the page in front of him, feeling defeated. He wanted to complete the page, but he knew he couldn't. Stupid slum kid, that's what she's going to think. After another 10 minutes of signing waivers and consent forms, he reached the end for the application and handed it back to her. "Thank you, sir. Please, just let me ensure you didn't miss signing anything, and you'll be on your way.”

John knew his application probably looked really bad. A whole lot of boxes left blank or filled with “none”. He gripped the armrest of the chair he sat in, eager to hide his embarrassment. “Excuse me, sir,” oh no, here it comes, “I believe you left the entire academic background page blank,” she calmly told him. “That's correct,” he replied. “You need to fill it out sir, so we have a good understanding of your background and how best to place you in your role. Would you mind completing it?”

John sat forward in his chair, moving closer to the officer so she could hear his whispering. “I never went to school. I don't have a GPA, and I haven't taken any of those fancy standardized tests” John stated remorsefully. Ashamed, he sat back into his chair, staring blacky at the ground, waiting for the laughter to start. What the hell am I doing here? I killed three people last week anyway, they could have found out. I don't even belong here… maybe Marcus was right… I should probably head back into the streets, find a new gang up here. John’s rapidly depressing train of thought was cut short when the lady interrupted him. “I understand. Some people aren't fortunate enough. My father grew up in the same way, but he is a great man, to me at least,” the woman told him, a sympathetic smile on her face. “You can go on ahead for the physical. I'll submit this. Good luck out there.” 

John stood up, thanked her again, and began to walk towards what he hoped was a new beginning, a better life.